Quick Facts

  • St James’ Church was inaugurated in 1643
  • The construction took approximately 63 years
  • The three monumental stone portals are still original
  • In the 1930s, the church was given a near-original form

When you find yourself at the southern edge of the Norrmalm district overlooking such monumental places like the Royal Palace, the House of the Swedish Parliament, and the Royal Swedish Opera there is one place that is hard to miss even in this scenery. Thanks to its prominent location the Saint James’ Church with its bright-red façade dominates the entire area. Since it has been in its place for much longer than most of the surrounding buildings, it also has an interesting story to tell.

St James' Church in Stockholm

The church’s origins date back to the early 14th century when a wooden chapel stood in the location of the modern-day place of worship. It was in 1311 that the chapel had first been mentioned and according to historical sources that have been preserved, it had been demolished around the year 1430 and afterwards replaced by a brick church.

After the arrival of Gustav Vasa to Stockholm in 1523, things had changed for churches in the city and therefore the one standing next to Kungsträdgården (The King’s Garden) was demolished just like many others.

In the following few decades, the laws introduced during the reign of Gustav Vasa have changed once again and consequently, several new churches were built around the city in the late 16th and during the 17th century. Apart from the Saint James’ Church, the Klara Church was constructed around the same time in the Norrmalm district, too.

Saint James' Church in Stockholm

Johan III, who also supported the construction of the Klara Church, was the one whose initiative was laid the foundation for this building. The construction of the church was not straightforward, though, and many problems were encountered along the way which caused the process to take more than six decades.

While the foundation stone had been laid in 1580 and things seemed to be going reasonably well, the construction was halted in 1593 when the main walls were already standing and the foundation of the central tower was ready, too. After additional changes had been done to the original design, the works continued around 1600. At this time, the two smaller, western towers were added.

Saint James' Church in Stockholm

Southern portal at St James’ Church.

The final stage of the construction took place between 1633 and 1643 after several other interruptions that followed the one that took place at the end of the 16th century. Together with the inauguration of the new church, the Saint James’ Parish was established.

Since then, the St. James’ Church has gone through a lot of changes. Some of them forced by special circumstances, some of them deliberate. First, in 1723, a lightning bolt hit the central tower which was badly damaged and had to be rebuilt. This was a job for architect Adelcrantz who designed the new tower while Carl Hårleman is the author of the lantern sitting on top of it.

Today, the church has an unusual bright-red façade that we can admire but that has not always been the case. While it is true that the original colour of the façade was red, it has been changed several times over the centuries. In the 1770s reconstruction, the church was painted grey. During most of the 1800s, the church’s façade was white while the in the 1900s, it was yellow.

Saint James' Church in Stockholm

Southern portal at St James’ Church

The church was turned red again in the late 1960s after remains of the original paint had been found on the walls of the central tower. It has not only been the exterior that was being changed during the numerous reconstructions, though.

One of the most significant reconstructions took place in the early 19th century when the original interior was replaced by modern furniture. This renovation, however, did not resonate well with the public which is likely why another one followed only a few years later when a new pulpit and an altarpiece were installed.

Some three-quarters of a century later, the interior of the church room went through more changes. At this time, new benches were installed as well as walls were decorated with paintings created by artist Agi Lindegren. Still, perhaps the most important of all reconstructions from the modern-day perspective was yet to come.

Saint James' Church in Stockholm

Northern portal at St James’ Church.

Architect Ove Leijonhufvud, the author of Rosersberg and Ulriksdal Castle, was the one leading the reconstruction that took place in the 1930s. Paradoxically, most of the changes made in the earlier renovations were obliterated by Leijonhufvud whose main objective was to return the church as close as possible to the form it had in the 17th and 18th century. He aimed to return it its ‘dignity and mood’ as some sources put it.

During this reconstruction, a new altarpiece was installed and the wall paintings from the late 19th century were covered by white paint so the interior once again became clean and simplistic.

Maybe surprisingly, there are still elements at the St. James’ Church that have survived all of this time essentially untouched. Something that you should absolutely not miss is the stone portals on three sides of the building with the southern one being the most monumental. This is due to the fact that originally the southern one was the main entrance despite it being on the west today. Another such element is the tower clocks, three of which are from 1723 while the fourth one was made in 1779.

Saint James' Church in Stockholm

The church hides some exceptional historical artefacts inside, too. Among the most interesting ones are the copes and the antependium from 1657 that are on display together with other valuable objects in a designated area. You can also find a gilded pulpit from 1828 or silver of the highest artistic quality from the 17th and 18th century in the interior of the St. James’ Church.

Now you know the most interesting parts of the St. James’ Church’s history and are ready to go and explore it for yourself. Once you are there, I am sure you will notice that there are many other places for you to discover nearby and you can, of course, read their stories here at Trevl.

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Lindhagen, Suzanne, 2005. S:t Jacobs kyrka. [Stockholms stift]

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